Primer, April 2008, first draft
You get accustomed to certain things, quickly, easily, unconsciously. There’s no real moment when you say: “Yes, I’ll accept your domination.”
You just do.
You accept it because it makes sense and because it is silent. It’s disguised as gentlemanly concern, hidden in softly drawled sentences and tender guiding hands on your elbow when in public. Who recognizes sentences for their truths when they’re said so gently?
“Aurora, are you ready yet?”
Rory winced, knowing that Paul using her full name was a sign to hurry up. He hated waiting. “In a minute,” she called, dusting her cheeks with a touch of blush. The lip pencil came next, outlining. With a small brush, she dabbed the lipstick on within the painted lines. Not even a minute.
Finished, she checked her appearance one last time and tucked her glasses into her clutch. He was waiting at the bottom of the steps. “You look very nice,” he said when she reached him.
A smile graced Rory’s face, though it didn’t reach her eyes, and she took his arm, telling herself that tonight wouldn’t be so bad. After all, her mother and Aunt Sophie would be there, too.
“You probably won’t understand much tonight since the opera is in Italian,” Paul said as they walked to the car and he opened the door for her. “So just smile and keep your mouth shut when you aren’t sure what’s going on.”
Rory smiled her smile again and nodded.
“Rory, dear, where are you glasses tonight?” asked Aunt Sophie during the intermission, appearing more interested in fluffing her hair and powdering her nose than finding out where her niece’s glasses were.
“Paul doesn’t like them, Aunt Sophie.”
“But you can’t see.”
“It’s fine. I just stay close to him.”
“Sophia, don’t start,” said Isadora, standing to Rory’s right and studying her own reflection. “Aurora, why you don’t get contacts is beyond me. You have such a cute figure.”
“I have no desire to poke myself in the eye, Mother.”
“You’re just being stubborn.”
“Isadora, leave your daughter alone. She’s lovely just as she is.”
“She always fights me. Always. And no wonder, Sophia, the way you egg her on. First, with that college and now with her marriage. Don’t give her any more ideas, please.”
Rather than take on Isadora directly, Sophie turned back to the mirror and gave her nose one last dusting. “So he likes you close, does he? I’d be careful, dear,” she murmured. “Men should never get used to a woman obeying them. They get spoiled and a mite demanding.”
Rory nodded. When she returned to Paul’s side, she held on to his arm and said all the right things, but the next time he told her to leave her glasses behind, she told him no.
He shoved against the wall, her head bouncing off the plaster, the hurt marrying with the sting of his slaps. He was screaming… screaming something… but she didn’t know what. He was so close, inches from her, his hot breath in her face as she cowered.
“You selfish bitch!”
Slowly, the words started to make sense.
“Selfish, selfish bitch!”
Her head slammed into the wall again as he shook her. Blindly, she reached out, trying to push him away, to make him let go. He was her husband. He loved her. He was screaming that now, that he loved her. He loved her. She didn’t love him. That was her failing. She didn’t love him.
When he released her, she collapsed on the floor at his feet.
“That’s better. Now, apologize for making me do that to you.”
“Mother, did you and daddy ever fight?”
Rory didn’t know what she wanted to hear, and she waited while her mother sipped her tea. The bump on the back of her head had gone down, and the bruises where he’d grabbed her upper arms were, by then a faded yellow and well-hidden by sleeves.
“Of course we did, Aurora. We just never fought in front of you and your brother. There was no need for you and Robert to be a part of that. Why?”
“I just wondered. I never remember seeing you two fight, that’s all.”
“Did you and Paul have your first fight, Aurora? Is that what you’re getting at?” Rory watched her mother place her teacup and saucer on the small table beside her and settle back in her seat. “Well, tell me about it. What did you do to him?”
“What did I do to him? Are you serious?”
Isadora just waited.
Rory sighed. “What I did,” she said, “was tell him I was going to wear my glasses.”
“Oh, Aurora! Can’t you let that go and just get contacts?”
“I never gave your father a reason to fight with me, for starters. If we did disagree, we did it privately – which is how matters like that should be managed. Problems between a husband and his wife are meant to be managed between them alone and, frankly, it’s the woman’s job to keep peace. Your father worked very hard, and he deserved to come home to a nice house. Paul does, too.” She paused for a moment and sipped her tea. “You have no idea how lucky you are that he indulges your job at that little magazine, Aurora. Don’t take him for granted and ruin things by being so critical.”
It was Rory’s turn to say nothing for a moment as she considered her mother’s words. Then, forcing a smile, she shook her head and lied. “No, no. I won’t… it’s nothing, Mother. Really.”
“Thank heavens,” Isadora picked up her tea and took another sip. “I’d hate to see such a good match end over a silly argument.”
For a moment, Rory felt as if the floor was about to fall out from under her and she would tumble into nothingness. A silly argument. Would her mother say the same if she saw the bruises on her arms? Or would she tell Rory they were deserved? She didn’t want to know the answer. Rory dug her fingers into the arms of the chair she sat in and willed herself to say nothing.
“Every marriage has its ups and downs and they need to be handled in private. Remember, he loves you, darling.”
She made it home without wrecking, without driving her car into a telephone pole. Tempting as it was at that moment. One simple jerk of the wheel, foot on the accelerator, and a brief moment between impact and oblivion. He loves you, darling. How hard could it be? Just one little turn. But her hands stayed where they were, locked on the proper ten o’clock and two o’clock positions. Her foot eased off the gas. It was just once, really. And he was trying so hard, determined to prove that he was the right choice for partner. Perhaps she was wrong. Her hands gripped the wheel tighter. She felt her nails dig into her palms. Perhaps she shouldn’t have picked that fight at that moment. She should have taken her glasses off. What would it have hurt anyway? They made her look so bookish and plain. Really, he did love her. And she loved him, if she was going to be honest about it. She loved curling up with him at night, being with him. She loved his energy, the way he worked so hard and was so good at what he did. The next day didn’t he bring her flowers and beg her forgiveness? Forget it, she told herself. If it becomes a habit, then I can worry. It was just once.
The flowers, one dozen red roses, were only starting to wilt. When Rory walked in, she noticed the petals drooping and moved the vase from the dining room table to the kitchen. Looking at them, she reminded herself that it was only once and that he had apologized. Checking the time, she went to the finished attic, her own little escape, to write undisturbed.
Above the desk in her attic-turned-office hung a crude sketch of a nude woman. It’s obviously an original, and the scrawl in the lower right corner – Dirk Viorst – reveals the now-famous artist’s name. Paul thinks it’s simply a gift from the fag painter she went to school with. If he looked more closely, he’d realize it was her, Rory, at eighteen, painted by the then-unknown artist.
Do hold still, we don’t want to ruin your pose.
If you quit making jokes, Dirk, I’d quit laughing.
But, my dear, you’re naked. They taught us in elementary art to keep the subject at ease.
As long as that door is locked, I’m at ease. More laughter. Even today she giggles, remembering the comical look on his face as he feigned shock.
You wanted it locked? Oh dear.
Staring at the picture now, thinking of the roses, she reaches down to touch her left leg and caress the scar that runs from heel to knee. Each time Paul sees it, he reminds her that a good plastic surgeon can solve her problem. Each time she puts him off, insisting that she doesn’t have time for vanity surgery. In truth, she doesn’t see the point. After so many years, it’s so faded that it’s hardly noticeable.
You have incredible legs, Rory, Dirk said as he positioned her, having her pull one knee up and wrap her arms around it. Even I appreciate them.
Leg. The other is mangled.
The scar is your trophy, dear. You’ve lived your life, survived your tragedies, and made it here. Though perhaps the gods didn’t foresee you in some wanna-be artist’s dormitory, posing for the picture that will make him a great legend in his own mind. Do you think, when those gods were steering that other car into your father’s that they intended for you to be here someday?
I try to believe that they had a purpose.
She likes the sketch up here, where she doesn’t have to worry about whether or not it matches the room’s décor.
Dirk featured the portrait in his senior show a year later. It caught the eye of a gallery owner’s wife and, before the ink was dry on his diploma, his first show was arranged. The portrait sold almost immediately, and now Rory uses stationery with the image printed upon the front. No one knows it’s her, something that has always amused her. Who would think that such a nice girl would do such a shocking thing?Staring at the portrait now, her thoughts turned back to Paul. Who would think that such a nice girl would marry a man with such a temper? He’d never raised a hand to her before. Why then? Why over something so trivial? Maybe if she called Selina? But what if she reacted as Isadora had? The thought of someone else suggesting that she was at fault was too much… taking a deep breath, Rory forced herself to forget it. The marks were nearly gone anyway.